Kevin Smith’s 1998 story was ahead of its time for superhero storytelling.
If you ask me, Daredevil might be one of the most difficult characters to write. He’s not flashy, he’s not funny — he’s just a man attempting to do some right in one of the worst parts of New York. He’s tragic to be sure, with enough ex-girlfriends lost to death or villainy to make you wonder what is wrong with him, but at his core, he wants to do what is right because it’s in his bones. One of the greatest runs on the character is being released this week in a new Marvel Knights black cover format and it captures the character very well.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
A scared teenager on the run. An infant child some say is humanity’s savior. A former lover whose life is now hobbled by a terrible secret. A law partner accused of a horrible crime. A city overcome by an inscrutable menace. They need a guardian. Someone to protect them. Someone with faith in them. They need the Man Without Fear: Daredevil! The Marvel Knights imprint’s very first offering, “Guardian Devil” is a modern classic, one that found Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy) confidently transitioning from writing acclaimed screenplays to comics that hit the top of sales charts and critics’ lists. It also found artist Joe Quesada at his peak as the stylist who would usher Marvel Comics into the 21st century!
Why does this matter?
This book collects all of Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s excellent 1998 run from Daredevil #1 to 8 and the #½ issue. This is a good time to catch up and reread the Marvel Knights books seeing as there’s a 20-year anniversary revival being curated by Donny Cates. It’s also just a fantastic run that dips into the faith of Daredevil as well as delivering on an interesting faith-based story.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Given this is written by Kevin Smith I think it’s a surprise to no one how verbose the narrative can be. Even on the second page of the book, there are 20 plus captions detailing a letter Daredevil reads from a lost love. The truth is this is a different kind of comic book reading experience that can lean more on the prose in fascinating and interesting ways. Smith draws you into the thinking of its characters and further clouds their minds with otherworldly events and, later in the story, mind-altering confusion. Each issue in the chapters collected here seems to start with a lot of captions or dialogue so as to bring you into Smith’s point of view clearly. That’s an interesting place to start before Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti wow you with the imagery.
Make no mistake, there are impressive panels and pages throughout this work from a visual standpoint. The covers in particular may be some of the most iconic and remembered from the 90s. The panel work does a great job managing the sometimes stuffy and arguably overdone dialogue, keeping you invested in the character or the action that is taking place. Matt Murdock is similar and you can feel his anguish via his facial expressions, hearing bad news or through his crumpled body when he can’t take it anymore. Matt goes through an emotional rollercoaster in this story and the creative team does not let you forget how close he comes to madness as he attempts to reconcile with what is going on.
The creative team works very well together managing the captions and dialogue, and it starts with Quesada’s always interesting body language. He’s clearly a master at the human form and you can see it in the subtlest of postures as Daredevil piledrives a villain or swings through the air. You get a sense of Daredevil’s ease in which he fights and flies through the air because his body language is so fluid. I also appreciate the gritted teeth, as if he’s a madman, which helps convey the psychological feats Matt must endure in this story.
The faith-based story is also a very interesting narrative element that everything hangs on in this collection. It’s fascinating how Smith somewhat hangs a true believer’s faith on nearly going mad when attempting to make sense of anything. In the last few chapters, we learn everything we thought was true may not be so and that helps continue to put into question not only Matt’s faith, but the narrative’s attempt at exploring faith in general. Thankfully it ends on a note that is warm and hopeful on the subject even when Daredevil is faced with literal demons and the truth behind everything that occurred.
The last chapter in this issue is possibly one of the most interesting, even though there isn’t any fighting or action to speak of. It’s an epilogue of sorts and it serves to discuss the faith of the characters, but also the hero inside Daredevil. In an excellently written scene, Kevin Smith has Spider-Man and Daredevil talking atop a bridge. Truly, it’s Daredevil who does the talking as he’s doing some soul searching. In this scene he says something truly enlightening when it comes to heroes, but it’s also shocking. That heroes are not innocent and are guilty too. “We’re guilty of being bandages on leprosy, but still our hubris would have us believe that we can make a difference,” Daredevil said. This is an incredible moment of doubt for the character, but it also speaks plainly and maturely about what these superheroes do every night. It’s a true statement and it has been tackled quite a few times since by writers like Grant Morrison with Bamtan Inc. and soon Tom King with Heroes in Crisis.
This book ends with the #½ issue which reveals how the villain pulling the strings learned everything. It’s done via full-page splashes on one page and prose on the other. Given Smith’s proclivity to write in a prose style it suits the collection. As far as other extras, there’s also an afterword by Smith himself, Ben Affleck (from 2000), and Tom Sullivan (from 2003), all from previous releases of this story as well as seven pages of sketches and two pages of covers. Opening the book is a nice introduction from Joe Quesada originally published in the hardcover edition released in 2008.
It can’t be perfect can it?
This is a comic that requires a bit of patience to read through. A few times I felt bombarded with Smith’s writing style which can be overdone and not the typical visual style of a comic book story. That said, if you take the time to read these captions and let them sink in, you’re in for a treat.
Is it good?
This is a story I missed growing up and I’m grateful Marvel is rereleasing it because it truly is a gem. It captures the spirit of Daredevil very well while also delivering on cataclysmic moments that feel important and long-lasting. As we all know, characters never die and heroes change all the time, but this slice of comic book history still remains incredibly poignant and sharp.